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Director: Javier Aguirre
Mya Communication

The year 2009 ends on a very sad note, as Spain’s king of horror, actor Paul Naschy, passed away at the end of November at the age of 75. Naschy was as much a fan of the genre as he was an icon for his numerous macabre portrayals, so he will no doubt live on forever in that regard. Announced before his untimely passing, Mya Communication’s Region 1 DVD release of HUNCHBACK OF THE MORGUE (El jorobado de la Morgue) arrives as a sort of tribute to the man, presenting one of his strongest outings for the first time on the digital format to U.S. audiences.

Wolfgang Gotho (Paul Naschy) is a simpleton, homely hunchback who works for a hospital morgue. It is there that his childhood friend and the woman he loves, Ilse (María Elena Arpón), is awaiting death due to an incurable disease. After two coroners attempt to perform an autopsy on Ilse’s body, Gotho goes bonkers, mutilating both men and stealing his beloved’s corpse, taking her to an underground torture chamber where he likes to hide out. In the meantime, nutty scientist Dr. Orla (Alberto Dalbes), who also works at the hospital, moves his equipment down to Gotho's hideaway and promises to revive the dead Ilse in exchange for fresh cadavers for an experiment he’s conducting. This poses no problem for Gotho, as he believes Dr. Orla can do it, and since he’s completely homicidal, murder has become second nature to him. An nice, engaged duo of doctors (Vic Winner and Maria Perschy) are soon introduced to Gotho’s and Dr. Orla’s underground world of madness, and Gotho somehow attracts the romantic attentions of a pretty doctor named Elke (Rosanna Yanni) who manages to fall for the loathsome creature because of his tender side.

Directed with enthusiasm by Javier Aguirre (who earlier helmed COUNT DRACULA’S GREAT LOVE) and scripted by Aguirre, Naschy (under his real name, Jacinto Molina) and Alberto S. Insúa, HUNCHBACK OF THE MORGUE is an entertaining mélange of Grand Guignol explicitness and pseudo gothic fantasy. As ridiculous as he appears (a silly mop of a hairpiece), Gotho remains one of Naschy’s most memorable characters. Showing moments of tenderness as he expresses his love for Ilse and pathos as he’s ridiculed by the locals or a band of bratty children, Gotho is also a butcher who is seen slicing off all sorts of extremities (giving us what is likely the goriest Naschy film of all time) and violently throwing his enemies in a vat of acid. In what is probably the film’s best scene, Gotho has to fend of a small army of real rats chomping on actress María Elena Arpón (you’ll also remember her from TOMBS OF THE BLIND DEAD), setting some of them on fire as they reportedly really attacked the actor. The scene is weird, effective and disturbing at the same time.

Adding to the outrageous fun is the underground setting, filled with ancient torture devices, skeletons and endless catacombs. This provides some great atmosphere, and an appropriately eerie dwelling for Dr. Orla (played deliciously over-the-top by genre favorite Albert Dalbes) to assemble his creation – a large glass jar of oozy pink flesh which is fed human heads. It later grows so big that it’s locked up in its own chamber, making ungodly noises and breaking loose as an indescribable walking hulk which makes for the perfect foe for Gotho to fight during the wild climax. If you can suspend disbelief for all this, then you certainly can for the relationship between Gotho and Elke (played by the ravishing Rosanna Yanni, who co-starred with Naschy more than a few times) as he’s seen kissing her feet and making love to her, granting us a brief topless scene in the international version (the scene is inserted for the transfer used here). Anyone who follows Spanish horror films will easily recognize actors Manuel de Blas (ASSIGNMENT TERROR, THE VAMPIRES’ NIGHT ORGY) and Antonio Pica (VENGEANCE OF THE ZOMBIES, BLUE EYES OF THE BROKEN DOLL) as the police inspectors, as well as Jess Franco regular Antonio Mayans (aka Robert Foster) as one of the obnoxious medical students who torments Gotho.

Although the film has been released on DVD in several other countries (including a limited edition German release from Anolis), here it is presented on Region 1 disc for the first time by Mya Communication, who do an admirable enough job. The transfer is culled from a Spanish print (with Spanish titles) which includes all the gore and inserts the aforementioned alternate nude Rosanna Yanni love scene in place of its “clothed” equivalent. The film is presented in its original hard-matted 1.85:1 aspect ratio with anamorphic enhancement. Colors appear strong, and black levels are solid, resulting in an overall good picture. Some minor qualms with the transfer are occasional picture softness, some awkward picture jerkiness during several motion scenes, and the fact that a few nighttime outdoor scenes are a bit too dark. Audio options include English (featuring actress Maria Perschy’s actual voice), Spanish and Italian; all come off nice and clear and there’s even English subtitles provided for which ever option you choose (something for which Mya has been criticized for not doing on past releases).

Extras on the disc include the alternate “clothed” version of the Rosanna Yanni love scene, and it’s also playable side-by-side with its topless counterpart. On-screen text dictates that a longer version of the scene (with a shirtless Gotho) once existed, but Spanish censors had it destroyed (only stills from it – some of which are featured here – now exist). There are three alternate opening and end credits for the American version, the German version and the Italian version, which replaces the upbeat Germanic um-pa-pa theme with a more somber piece of music. The lovable original American trailer (for its mid 1970s release by Jerry Gross’ Cinemation Industries) is included, as are four different still galleries showcasing various stills, movie posters, video and Super 8 covers, and advertising materials for the film. (George R. Reis)